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Obama launches new push for US jobs, tapping GE's Immelt to help

The economy is 'not growing fast enough yet,' Obama acknowledged Friday, speaking to GE workers in Schenectady, N.Y. Will GE's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, prove to be his guide to building a more competitive America?

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For Obama politically, it might help him build credentials as a centrist after two years in which many Americans have viewed him as being to the left of their own views. On the negative side, the selection of Immelt might bolster perceptions of an administration ready to cozy up to the biggest businesses, whose interests don't always mesh with those of ordinary Americans.

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By contrast, Mr. Volcker, who is officially departing as a key administration adviser, was known for his willingness to differ sharply with Wall Street powerbrokers.

To critics of Immelt's selection, his role opens the door to potential conflicts of interest. GE's future profits are intertwined with government policies in the US and elsewhere. It makes equipment used in energy, infrastructure, health care, and defense. On Wednesday, when Obama sang the praises of export-related contracts that US firms have won in China recently, GE deals figured prominently.

Still, economists say growing exports – for GE and other firms – are one vital way for the US to grow jobs.

In his remarks Friday, Obama said US firms are "on track" to achieve his goal of doubling exports in a five-year period.

Even in a best-case scenario for exports, America will need lots of other jobs, as well. Obama and the Immelt panel will consider broader economic policies such as ensuring that US workers maintain competitive skills.

The Obama administration has also begun exploring the possibility of an overhaul of the tax code, a move aimed in part at making America more competitive with other nations as a place to locate factories and offices. And earlier this week, Obama issued an executive order designed to weed out unnecessary rules and regulations that hinder job creation.

The US Chamber of Commerce issued a statement Friday calling the president's new council "promising."

“The ultimate test will not be the administration’s words and intentions, but its actions," Chamber president Thomas Donohue said. "A more robust economy and stronger job growth will require regulatory restraint and reform, trade expansion, reducing deficits, reining in spending, strengthening our education system, and rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure."

Obama's moves to repair ties with business don't mean that private-sector employers have ceased to have concerns about the administration.

For example, when Obama described his efforts to reduce red tape (writing on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal), he didn't pledge to cease and desist from all new regulations. Some business leaders worry that an expected move by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon emissions could impose damaging costs on the economy.

Also, where Obama is working to fend off Republican attacks on his health-care reforms, some small-business leaders praise Republicans efforts to overturn the law. The National Federation of Independent Business said recently that the law isn't curbing health-care costs.

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